By Sharon Fountain, Chicago Crusader
Although most often applied to people, the old adage, “With age comes wisdom,” thanks to numerous research studies, has proven to be true. Research findings often describe the ability of seniors 60 and older to solve problems, make compromise, recognize their limitations and offer insight in difficult situations.
What is not often recognized is the application of these attributes to great historical institutions and the leaders they choose. West Point Missionary Baptist Church and its pastor, Reverend Dr. L. Bernard Jakes, are prime examples.
West Point Missionary Baptist Church, located in the Bronzeville community, was established in 1917. A century old, it boasts a rich history full of the experiences one would expect, experiences that shaped the mission of a great African American institution of God.
Likewise, the characteristics of its spiritual leadership have been deliberately chosen over the years to continue the mission of the church. West Point leadership has focused on the growth and spiritual development of its congregation and community with love, faith and commitment to the word of God.
Continuing that legacy is Reverend Dr. L. Bernard Jakes who began his pastoral service at West Point Missionary Baptist Church in 2001. It was the church’s 84th year, and Jakes was the fifth pastor to serve in that capacity. He was 31 years old.
On Friday, April 28 the faith family at West Point Baptist Church will honor and celebrate his 15th Year Pastoral Anniversary with a Banquet and Party at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7000 S. South Shore Drive in Chicago starting at 6 – 11 p.m. Then on Sunday, April 30, during the 10:30 a.m. Worship Service at West Point Baptist Church, Rev. S. Todd Yeary, Ph.D., Senior Pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland will deliver a special message.
Referring to themselves as the faith family of West Point MBC is something started by Jakes in 2010 to describe who they are in the community – a family of faith.
Rev. Dr. L. Bernard Jakes received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois; the Master of Arts degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
Dr. Jakes shares his life and ministry with Lady Carole Denise and their two children, Brandon and Erika.
When Jakes looks back, he smiles as he reflects on one of his greatest achievements, which was healing and reconciling the members.
For the first seven years he focused on—healing, reconciliation and restoration of the church, which had suffered a devastating church split with his predecessor. Jakes said he was not prepared for the severity of the emotional and spiritual pain the congregation suffered, but he is stronger for it now.
The whole experience has been an inspiration for a book he is writing to help new and seasoned ministers with similar situations. Jakes said in the book, which is not yet published, “I had to pay for whatever they couldn’t take out on him—I had to pay for it.”
Jakes likes to talk about West Point’s ministries. He insists they must serve a need to exist. “I don’t ever want us to be a congregation that starts ministries just because they are popular. I want us to start a ministry because there is a need,” said Jakes during a Sunday sermon.
When 25 people lined up behind the church fence for a box lunch—the Food Pantry at West Point got started. It now feeds over 19,000 families a year.
Another ministry at West Point established under Jakes’ leadership is the Domestic Violence & Advocacy (DVA) Ministry under the leadership of Deacon Erica B. Davis. Dare to Care Community Resource & Safety Festival is an outgrowth of the ministry, which boast a carnival, concert and resources for the community. The annual “Dare to Care” event is in its 9th year.
The Mental Health and Wellness Ministry at West Point is working to breakdown the cultural stigmatism preventing more African Americans from receiving treatment.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, the faith family and Jakes have restored the church from the split, established ministries, built seven townhomes, engages the community, and only counsels couples for lifetime commitments, just to name a few of his accomplishments.
He continues to actively address issues in his community, which include hunger, poverty, fatherless homes and the lack of love towards the youth. He would like to see African Americans hold elected officials accountable and so he supports efforts to insure businesses are investing in our community as partners, as well as making them leave when they are not.
So what’s next for Jakes?
As the pastor of a church that will be celebrating 100 years in the community this year, he recognizes the church’s role as being the voice and the mainstay of the Bronzeville community. Jakes said, “When everything else around us is changing, we as a church must be able to let those in the community who are feeling uncomfortable with change that is not justified know that we are going to fight for them.”
Pastor Jakes said it is his wish by God’s grace to continue ministering to the faith family at West Point Missionary Baptist Church for the next 21 years – that’s his plan if the Lord will honor his wish. Then, as he smiled he said it is his “hope that the Lord will allow him to live a pretty modest life after that and live at least another 45 years after having served as a pastor.”